COURT HOUSE - What will school look like in the fall, assuming restrictions and safety precautions are still in effect because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
That’s the question facing school staff over the next couple weeks, as they prepare to re-open after shutting their doors, in March.
“I think we have four options,” said Jamie Moscony, assistant superintendent, Cape May County Special Services School District. “To have everyone in the classroom, everyone home doing online distance learning, some mix of the two or some students in the classroom and some doing distance learning.
“Things change so frequently, but given the various scenarios from the state Department of Education (DOE) and Department of Health (DOH), we have to consider all the options,” she added.
Atlantic Cape Community College is preparing to offer limited face-to-face classes this fall, which may include courses that require hands-on labs, like culinary, health sciences, and other related courses.
At least one local private school, Cape Christian Academy, seems to have had a crystal ball, as they announced a hybrid classroom-distance learning program for this coming year, in addition to offering classroom education five days a week.
DOE Plan Anticipates Minimum Standards be Met
In “The Road Back - Restart and Recovery Plan for Education,” the DOE outlined “anticipated minimum standards” and “considerations” for school districts, as they put together their plans to re-open (https://bit.ly/2YJ03Gf).
“Anticipated minimum standards” are the components that need to be included, while “considerations” are not necessary. Minimum standards include following certain social distancing practices in classrooms and face-covering measures for students and staff.
For larger districts, the number of students in a building may make it impractical for all students to be in their schools at once. For these districts, the DOE provided the flexibility to re-arrange school schedules to allow for grouping - or cohorting - of students, or by implementing hybrid learning environments in which students receive in-person and remote instruction.
The DOE guidance also stresses that each school district should be working to ensure every student has a device and internet connectivity available, and it identifies funding streams available to school districts to ensure students have access to technology.
The DOE is requiring school districts to share their plans at least four weeks before the start of the school year.
Special Services School Needs Flexible Approach
At the Cape May County Special Services School, Moscony said over 50% of their 240 students are immuno-compromised, so they intend to review each individual’s situation to determine what model best serves the child’s needs. They offer services to students pre-kindergarten through age 21.
“Our steering committee is going through the DOE guidance now because, as you might imagine, the situation for children with special needs is extremely challenging,” she said. “Distance learning doesn’t always work.
“Occupational and physical therapy for students is best hands-on rather than online. Many of our students don’t tolerate face masks, touch their face and nose frequently, and are not able to keep 6-feet distance from others.
“We have to have a flexible approach to protect the students and the staff,” she stressed.
They are exploring how the use of rooms can be changed to accommodate some of the guidelines, such as using the cafeteria or gym for therapy. “Since we won’t be using our cafeteria for serving food because the students will be eating in their classroom, we might be able to utilize the space differently to accommodate social distancing,” Moscony said.
Staff Uses Community Resources in Decisions
Moscony noted there are a “handful” of students who will require the staff to take a “deep dive” into how their educational needs can be met. “We are meeting with parents, case managers, our nurses, and school physicians to figure out what will work,” she said. “Flexibility is the key.”
Another challenge facing school districts is the transportation of students to, and from, school. “How do you socially distance with a wheelchair,” Moscony asked.
“We are reaching out to all our community resources. We will weigh the risks, we know how to handle this,” Moscony stressed, “and will share plans with parents as soon as we can. Flexibility is the key because of all the medical concerns.”
School is scheduled to re-open Sept. 8.
Atlantic Cape Combines In-Person with Online Services
Atlantic Cape President Dr. Barbara Gaba said, in a statement posted on the school’s website, “The re-opening of the campuses will be a measured and gradual approach to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff. Our Coronavirus Task Force has developed a comprehensive re-opening plan and is reviewing all cleaning and sanitizing protocols to ensure that we can provide the necessary in-person services, such as financial aid, admissions and advising, for student success.”
Atlantic Cape will loan computers to students who need them, as well as a host of remote student services, including tutoring, counseling, online student club activities, career services, and advising. Atlantic Cape also increased its online tutoring services so it is available to students 24/7, according to its posting.
The college is currently continuing with its online classes for the summer. The first classes for fall 2020 begin Aug. 31. The school enrolls more than 6,000 students.
Cape Christian Plans Hybrid Model
“Cape Christian Academy had been planning our hybrid model for more than a year,” School Administrator John Spriggs said, “and the school board approved the plan well before COVID-19. It is designed for students and parents that want flexibility in their learning and as an option for those who would like to homeschool, but don’t feel comfortable picking curriculum or teaching every subject to their child."
“We consider the welfare and safety of our students, teachers, and staff very important,” he added. “We understand the need to follow social distancing guidelines, and we are implementing policies and guidelines to promote health and safety while providing a productive environment for learning.”
Spriggs said they formed a committee per the DOE’s plan, noting “as a small Christian school, we are always receptive to input from parents and will add input from any interested parties into our re-opening plan.”
Their hybrid model calls for students to participate in class two or three days a week and complete their work from home the other two or three days a week. The teacher is responsible to set the entire curriculum, and Spriggs said students will complete equivalent work, as if they were in the classroom five days a week. Also, students participating in the hybrid model will have the opportunity to participate in a new performing arts academy.
“Since our school is small, our traditional five-day-a-week program will be able to meet the needs of families that need to work five days a week, while continuing to provide an excellent education,” Spriggs said. “Students will not be required to wear masks in the classroom, but masks will be needed in the hallway and bathrooms when proper social distancing cannot be maintained. We are already familiar with the cleaning and disinfecting protocols because we are running a summer camp program.”
Remote Instruction Could Happen at Any Time
Because school re-opening is dependent upon health data and informed by experts in the health field, the DOE also advised districts to be prepared to “pivot to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year.”
To contact Karen Knight, email email@example.com.